68 killed or found dead in Iraq, 13 from suicide attacks
Sectarian violence, Al Qaeda power struggle blamed
BAGHDAD -- Suicide bombers killed 13 people in a pair of attacks yesterday around the Sunni Arab city of Ramadi in what local officials said was part of a power struggle between Al Qaeda and tribes that have broken with the terror network.
In all, at least 68 people were killed or found dead nationwide yesterday, police said. They included the bullet-riddled bodies of 30 men found in Baghdad -- the apparent victims of sectarian death squads.
All but two were found in west Baghdad, including 17 in the Amil neighborhood where Sunni politicians have complained of renewed attacks by Shi'ite militiamen, said a police official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not supposed to release those details.
Sunni complaints prompted the country's Sunni vice president to threaten to leave the Shi'ite-dominated government unless key unspecified amendments to the constitution are not made by May 15.
The power struggle among the Sunnis, which surfaced last year, could prove decisive in the US campaign to win over significant portions of the Sunni community, which has formed the bedrock of the insurgency.
The first of the Ramadi area attacks happened about noon in a market on the northwest outskirts of the city, killing eight people and wounding 13, said police Colonel Tariq Youssef.
About 15 minutes later, police at a nearby checkpoint spotted a second car bomb and opened fire, but the driver was able to detonate the vehicle, Youssef said. Five people, including two police officers, were killed and 12 were wounded, Youssef said.
The attacks occurred in areas controlled by the Anbar Salvation Council, an alliance of Sunni tribes formed last year to drive Al Qaeda from the area. Council officials blamed the attacks on Al Qaeda.
"They committed this crime because we have identified their hideouts and we are chasing them," said Sheik Jabbar Naif al-Dulaimi.
In a Web statement yesterday, an Al Qaeda front organization, the Islamic State of Iraq, warned Sunnis against joining the government security forces -- a move supported by the Salvation Council.
"We tell every father, mother, wife, or brother who does not want to lose a relative to advise them not to approach the apostates, and we swear to God that we will use every possible means to strike at the infidels and the renegades," the group's statement said.
The Islamic State also claimed responsibility yesterday for attacks that killed 34 people over the weekend -- including six US soldiers and a Russian embedded photojournalist who died in a roadside bombing in Baqubah.
The 34 also included the police chief of Samarra, Colonel Jalil Nahi Hassoun, who was killed Sunday in an attack on police headquarters. He was buried yesterday following a tearful procession by police in blue uniforms who escorted the flag-draped coffin as it was driven in the bed of a white pickup truck through the Sunni city.
At least five Al Qaeda fighters were killed in the fighting in Samarra, a US military official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release details of the attack.
Also yesterday, the military announced a US soldier was killed by small-arms fire in western Baghdad the day before, bringing to nine the number of American personnel slain Sunday.
The security situation in the capital figured high in talks between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Bush, who conferred yesterday in a video conference.
Maliki told Bush of the need to maintain cooperation between US and Iraqi forces as they continue their campaign to end the chaos and violence in Baghdad, the prime minister's office said in a statement.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said Bush and Maliki spoke about the Iraqi leader's push for political reconciliation, which is considered vital to bring stability.
The two leaders spoke for about 25 minutes with staff members in attendance, then for another period of time one-on-one, Snow said.
"The prime minister is working with the presidency council to advance the political process in Iraq, including a lot of the legislation that we've been discussing over the last few months," Snow told reporters. "But issues of communications and reconciliation were at the fore."
Maliki, a Shi'ite, reiterated his determination to work with Sunni leaders, Snow said.
The international Red Cross announced yesterday it would increase its operations to provide food, water, and medical treatment for hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have fled their homes but remain in the country.
"This conflict is inflicting immense suffering on all Iraqis," Beatrice Megevand-Roggo, head of the organization's Middle East operations, said in Geneva. "Civilians are bearing the brunt of the relentless violence."